The Tradition of the Catholic Church

Read ~ Chapter 6: The Tradition of the Catholic Church

Father Anthony Nachef, STD (Doctorate in Sacred Theology)

 The teachings contained in this chapter are based on Holy Scriptures, the Tradition of the Catholic Church [especially the First and Second Vatican Councils, The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the Fathers of the Church (especially St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine)], the Magisterium of the Catholic Church (especially Saint Pope Paul VI, Saint Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis). All Apostolic Encyclicals and Letters are found on the Vatican Website: Vatican

Misunderstanding the concept of Tradition 

Jesus criticizes the Jewish traditions: In the Old Testament we have a collection of Jewish traditions that were added to the Ten Commandments over time. Jesus attacked the Pharisees who created human traditions that are contrary to the teachings of Moses (especially the 613 Rabbinic traditions in the Torah) because they twisted their original meaning as given to Moses by God.

Non-Catholics misunderstand the concept of TraditionNon-Catholics who refuse to accept Church Tradition basing their argument on Jesus’ attack on traditions, are mistaken. The Tradition of the Catholic Church is not that at all. It is exactly what St. Paul told Timothy: “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it, some have missed the mark as regards the faith.” (1 Timothy 6:20-21) And, again St. Paul said, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received…” (1 Corinthians 15:3)  St. Paul is the only Apostle who never met the historical Jesus and who received the Gospel directly from the risen Lord. St. Paul, therefore, declares that he transmits to the Corinthians what has been handed down to him by Jesus. So, that transmitting of the body of teachings started immediately after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and that is what we call Tradition.

Holy Tradition is not invented by humans: The Holy Tradition of the Catholic Church is not something that human beings invented as many non-Catholics think. It is what Jesus said and did that was not written in the Bible. St. John’s Gospel relates that “there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (Jn 21:25) Tradition is still the words and deeds of Jesus with eternal value that were transmitted down by the Apostles who heard him. In this sense, the Gospel of Luke says: “He who hears you hears me.” (Luke 10:16). Also the Letter to the Hebrews relates: “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him…” (Hebrews 2:1-3)

Oral Tradition 

The Bible is not a biography of JesusThe Tradition of the Catholic Church started in the New Testament. Three years of Jesus’ preaching and activity cannot be entirely contained in four Gospels. The Gospels are not an autobiography of Jesus Christ; their focus is his death and resurrection that brought about the salvation of humanity. Therefore, the Gospels skip what Jesus did and said from the age of twelve (Jesus found in the Temple by Mary and Joseph) to the age of thirty. Many theologians believe that the Gospels are the message of the death and resurrection of Christ with a long introduction. 

Oral Tradition right after the death of JesusBetween the death and resurrection of Christ in the year 33 A.D. and the writing of the first document of the New Testament (Letter to the Thessalonians 49 A.D.), the Apostles and disciples were orally preaching the death and resurrection of Christ (Acts of the Apostles, 1). The sixteen years of oral tradition and teachings of the Apostles and disciples are called Kerygma of the Apostles (see Luke 4:18-19, Romans 10:14, Matthew 3:1). St. Paul said to the Corinthians: “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.” (1 Cor 11:2). Comparing his ministry to that of the other Apostles who met Jesus personally and who have been preaching his death and resurrection, St. Paul emphasizes the essential role of tradition and that “what matters is that I preach what they preach, and this is what you all believed.” (1 Cor 15:11) 

How Tradition emerged in the New TestamentBut when, at certain point, the Apostles became worried about losing the message of Christ, they started to write it down. Since it was impossible to write everything down, some parts were written and other parts remained oral. Therefore, we have One Tradition in the Catholic Church that is partially written and partially oral. In this sense St. Paul told the Thessalonians: “Brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thes 2:15) St. Paul told also the Galatians that the Gospel he is transmitting to them comes from Christ directly. He urges them to reject any teaching that is not faithful to the tradition of his Gospel: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different Gospel – not that there is another Gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the Gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a Gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-8)

The Holy Spirit ensures the accuracy of the Tradition

Is the Church Tradition accurate? How can we be sure that the transmission of the Tradition’s teachings is accurate? It is because of the Holy Spirit that oral teachings are fully truthful. Jesus assured the Apostles that “when the Holy Spirit comes, however, being the Spirit of truth he will guide you to all truth”. (John 16:13)  The Holy Spirit will continue teaching the Church everything Jesus had taught the Apostles until the end of time. In order to safeguard that Tradition, St. Paul urges Timothy: “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me…Follow the pattern of the sounds words which you have heard from me….guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.” (2 Timothy: 1: 12-14)  The Holy Spirit ensures that the Tradition of the Catholic Church is and will always remain immune from any error. Jesus has already prepared the Church for the teaching of the Apostles when he told them on several occasions: “He who listens to you listens to me.” (Luke 10:16) 

 The work of the Holy Spirit in the Magisterium ensures the Divine Tradition: The Holy Spirit promised by Jesus is the Third Person of the Trinity who will extend in space and time (in the church) the words and deeds of Jesus. The Holy Spirit promised to the Apostles will continue to inspire their successors since what Jesus established is intended to exist and continue until the end of time. Therefore, the successors of the Apostles (Magisterium of the Catholic Church) from below, and the Holy Spirit from above, cooperate to keep the Tradition of the Catholic Church intact until the end of time.  The Second Vatican Council teaches: “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Dei Verbum, 10:2)    

An example of the cooperation of the Church with the Holy Spirit in safeguarding Tradition: To illustrate the work of the Holy Spirit in the Magisterium, consider the Council of Jerusalem in 49 A.D. At that time, the Apostles gathered in Jerusalem to discuss whether the new converts to Christianity should be circumcised or not. They claimed that “it is the decision of the Holy Spirit and ours” (Acts 15:28) that new converts should not be circumcised. This is an amazing sentence; people don’t pay attention to it: The Apostles and, following in their footsteps, the Magisterium confirm that ‘their decision and that of the Holy Spirit’ is one and the same. When one goes to the Vatican Museums and enters the chapel of the Immaculate Conception (this dogma was proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854) one realizes that the painting on the lower level (Pope proclaiming the Dogma) reflects the heavenly consent of the painting above levels (Mary being crowned by the Trinity).

Understanding of Tradition is a historical process: Even though the Divine Revelation of God happened once and for all in and through Jesus Christ, the understanding of this revelation is a historical process that will continue in the church until the end of time. The Holy Spirit will keep inspiring the church about subjects that are not in the Bible. For example, we don’t have in the Bible anything about contraceptive pills or cloning etc… Inspired by the Holy Spirit of truth, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church will determine what is right and what is wrong: that’s exactly what we call the Tradition of the Catholic Church. The Catechism teaches that both the Word of God and Holy Tradition ”make present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own ‘always to the close of the age’.” (CCC, 80)

By Fr. Antoine (Anthony) Nachef, STD (Doctorate in Sacred Theology)

Capítulo 6: La Tradición de la Iglesia Católica 

Las enseñanzas en este capítulo se basan en las Escrituras Sagradas, la Tradiciones de la Iglesia Católica (especialmente el Catecismo de la Iglesia Católica (CCC)), los Padres de la Iglesia (especialmente San Thomas Aquinas y San Agustín) él Magisterio de la Iglesia Católica (especialmente San Papa Pablo VI, San Papa John Paul II y Papa Benedicto XVI).  

Jesús Critica las Tradiciones Judías: En el Antiguo Testamento hay una colección de Tradiciones Judías que fueron añadidos a los Diez Mandamientos a través del tiempo. Jesús atacó los Fariseos quien crearon las Tradiciones que son contrarias a las enseñanzas de Moisés (especialmente las Tradiciones Rabínicas 613 en él Torá) porque cambiaron el significado original dado por Moisés de Dios. Los que no son Católicos que niegan aceptar la tradición de la Iglesia basan su argumento en el ataque de Jesús en las tradiciones, están equivocados. 

Tradiciones en el Nuevo Testamento: La tradición de la Iglesia Católica empezó en el Nuevo Testamento. El Evangelio de Juan relaciona que “muchas cosas que hizo Jesús y dijo que no fueron escritas en este libro, se hubieron sido escritos todo el mundo no podría contener lo que podría ser escrito. Tres años de la predicación y actividad de Jesús no pueden ser completamente contenidos en cuatro evangelios. Las Evangelios no son una autobiografía de Jesús; su enfoque es la muerte y resurrección de Jesucristo que trajo la salvación de la humanidad. De hecho, los Evangelios omiten lo que Jesús hizo y dijo desde la edad de doce(Jesús fue encontrado en el templo por María y José) hasta la edad de treinta. Muchos teológicos creen que los Evangelios son mensajes de la muerte y resurrección de Cristo con una introducción larga. 

Como las Tradiciones Surgieron en el Nuevo Testamento: Entre la muerte y la resurrección de Cristo en el año 33 y la escritura del primer documento del Nuevo Testamento (Carta a la los Tesalonicenses 49 A.D.), los Apóstoles y discípulos estaban predicando oralmente la muerte y resurrección de Cristo Actos de los Apóstoles, 1)Los dieciséis años de la tradición y enseñanza oral de los Apóstoles y discípulos se llaman Kerigma de los Apóstoles. Pero cuando, a cierto punto, los Apóstoles se empezaron a apurar de perder el mensaje de Cristo, lo empezaron a escribir. Cómo era imposible a escribir todo, algunas partes fueron escritas y otras permanecieron oral. Entonces, tenemos la Sola Tradición en la Iglesia Católica que es parcialmente escrita y parcialmente oral. 

La Santa Tradición no es Inventada por los Humanos: La Santa Tradición de la Iglesia Católica no es algo que los humanos inventaron cómo creen los que no son Católicos. Es lo que Jesús dijo y hizo que no fue escrito. Tradición todavía es la palabras y hechos de Jesús. San Pablo insta a Timoteo y a Tito que guarden las tradiciones que les fueron entregadas por él y los Apóstoles. En la carta de San Pablo a los Corintios, 15, Pablo declara que les transmite lo que Jesús le ha transmitido. De modo que la transmisión del cuerpo de las enseñanzas comenzó inmediatamente después de la muerte y resurrección de Jesucristo. 

Son Correctos las Tradiciones de la Iglesia?: Cómo podemos estar seguros que la transmisión de las enseñanzas de la Tradición son correctos? Es por el Espíritu Santo que las enseñanzas oral son completamente justificados. Jesús aseguró a los Apóstoles que cuando él se va, el Espíritu Santo descenderá sobre ellos y continuará enseñándoles todo lo que Jesús les había enseñado hasta el final de los tiempos. El Espíritu Santo prometió por Jesús es la Tercer Persona de la Trinidad quien extendido en el tiempo y el espacio (en la Iglesia) las palabras y hechos de Jesús. Él es el Espíritu de la verdad quién asegura que la Tradición es correcta y inmune del error. En adición, la autoridad de la enseñanza de la Iglesia Católica desde abajo asegura que lo que él Espíritu Santo siempre he enseñando la Iglesia, el magisterium puede y es capaz como lo única criterio para discernir lo que correcto y lo que es malo en cualquier tradición.  

En el año 49 A.D., los Apóstoles se reunieron en Jerusalén para discutir si los nuevos conversos a la religión Cristiana deberían ser circuncidados o no. Ellos afirmaron que “es la decisión del Espíritu Santo y la nuestra” que los nuevos conversos no deberían ser circuncidados. Frase asombrosa, la gente no le presta atención: los Apóstoles y, siguiendo sus pasos, el Magisterio confirma que su decisión y la del Espíritu Santo son una y la misma. Cuando uno va a los Museos Vaticanos y entra a la capilla de la Inmaculada Concepción (este dogma que fue proclamado por el Papa Pío IX en 1854) uno se da cuenta de que la pintura en el nivel inferior (Papa proclamando el Dogma) refleja el consentimiento celestial de la pintura niveles superiores (María siendo coronada por la Trinidad). 

La Comprensión de la Tradición es un Proceso Histórico: Aunque la revelación divina de Dios ocurrió de una vez por todas en y a través de Jesús, la comprensión de esta revelación es un proceso histórico que continuará en la iglesia hasta el fin de los tiempos. El Espíritu Santo seguirá inspirando a la Iglesia sobre temas que no están en la Biblia. Por ejemplo, en la Biblia no tenemos nada sobre píldoras anticonceptivas o clonación, etc … Inspirado por el Espíritu Santo de la verdad, el Magisterio de la Iglesia determinará lo que está bien y lo que está mal: eso es exactamente lo que llamamos la Tradición de la Iglesia Católica.

By Father Antoine (Anthony) Nachef, STD (Doctorate in Sacred Theology)